The Relationship Between Eating And Depression

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated July 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Depression is a common mental health condition outlined in the DSM-5. It involves symptoms such as low mood, difficulty sleeping, losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, and thoughts of suicide.* 

Depression can come about from a combination of several factors, such as family history, disability (such as multiple sclerosis or chronic pain), and life circumstances.

In some cases, people with depression or those who suspect they are experiencing a depressive disorder might experience appetite changes, which could mean not wanting to eat much at all or wanting to eat all the time. Either can become unhealthy if they get in the way of one’s physical or emotional well-being. But there are treatments for depression that can address and improve these symptoms.

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Does your diet affect your mood?

Appetite changes: Depression symptoms

One of the more significant symptoms of major depressive disorder is a change in appetite, which can involve a loss of appetite or increased appetite. Physical depressive symptoms (like fatigue and muscle pains) or emotional depressive symptoms (like overwhelming sadness or hopelessness) may contribute to these changes. Major depressive disorder can also co-occur with eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

For example, someone experiencing depression may sleep more often, struggle to fall asleep, or experience a lack of motivation. Eating nutritious foods that one enjoys (or less nutritious foods in moderation) is important to taking care of oneself, but it may feel overwhelming or not pass through your mind when you’re depressed. Since changes in sleep habits can also cause physical health concerns (like a higher risk of heart disease) your body might react by losing or gaining appetite as it adjusts to your routine or lack thereof.

Loss of appetite

For many who experience a loss of appetite due to major depressive disorder, it may be related to a lack of energy, motivation, or desire to eat. Additionally, depression may come with physical symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, or sleepiness. Physical symptoms might cause discomfort that limits the amounts or types of food someone can tolerate. 

In some cases, depression is connected with grief after losing a loved one. In these cases, you might struggle to feel physical sensations like hunger, thirst, or sleepiness. You may find that your mind is focused primarily on the loss and any intense emotions you’re feeling. Although this can be a normal response to grief, eating regularly might help keep your energy up.

Increase in appetite

Depression may also cause an increase in appetite. For some, this comes from emotional eating, which is when you eat to handle difficult emotions. It may feel compulsive or become a dependency on food. Studies show that emotional eating is often connected with sweet foods and less with nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, or dairy products. People may also start to crave unhealthy foods like fast food more frequently or in larger amounts than they otherwise would. An increased appetite may also be connected to binge eating disorder, a mental health condition in which individuals struggle to control their food intake.

Some anti-depressants also cause an increase in appetite, which may cause weight gain. For example, weight gain is a significant side effect of many SSRIs. An increase in appetite might also be a symptom of an eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder, which has been researched in connection to depression.

In some cases, people overeat to avoid coping with stress, emotions, or conflict. They may find comfort in routines such as eating snacks while watching YouTube or always having food at home. These behaviors might be related to trauma, depression, or another condition or symptom. In these cases, speaking to a professional may be beneficial.

Behavioral changes regarding food

Some individuals living with depression experience behavioral changes in their eating habits that become compulsive. In these cases, they may also fit the criteria for an eating disorder. In some cases, these eating disorders can discuss diagnostic criteria with other conditions, like substance use disorder (which is sometimes incorrectly called “substance abuse disorder.”) Anyone of any gender and weight can have an eating disorder, and not every eating disorder centers on restrictive behaviors. Common eating disorders connected to depression include: 

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating disorder 

Between 50 to 75% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder also meet the criteria for a depressive disorder diagnosis. 

Eating disorder support 

If you are experiencing symptoms of binge eating, food restriction, body dysmorphia, or feelings of judgment around food, you may be experiencing an eating disorder. Consider reaching out for support. You can contact a therapist for personalized mental health support or reach out to an organization that offers further information about eating disorder resources in your area.

Foods to alleviate symptoms 

You may be interested in learning about foods for depression that can alleviate its symptoms. Although food alone cannot treat depression, eating healthy has been proven to have mental and physical health benefits. Certain foods rich in folate or B12 may also have benefits for those diagnosed with depression, such as: 

  • Peas
  • Whole Grain bread
  • Nuts and whole grains
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fresh fruits
  • Seafood
  • Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, asparagus, etc.) 
  • Eggs 
  • Berries, such as açaí

There are also several foods to consider removing from your diet to reduce depression symptoms. Research suggests that foods that contribute to inflammation can be a factor in depressive disorders. In a study involving individuals with multiple sclerosis, researchers found that a pro-inflammatory diet was associated with worsened depressive symptoms. Removing pro-inflammatory foods like red meat, soda, refined sugar, and other processed foods may help you manage symptoms of depression. 

You can also introduce anti-inflammatory foods—such as kale, squash, fruits, and certain fermented dairy products—to your diet. An anti-inflammatory diet can have several benefits beyond improved mental health, potentially helping reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions. 


How to heal your relationship with food 

If you struggle with food, find it difficult to maintain a varied diet, or notice changes in appetite that become distressing or impact your life, there may be methods of increasing or decreasing the amount you eat in healthy quantities. These methods can be implemented on your own, with your therapist, or with the help of a registered dietician.

Sign up for a meal plan 

Many individuals experiencing the symptoms of major depression may feel that they do not want to eat because shopping, cooking, and preparing balanced meals can take time, energy, and money. In these cases, you might consider signing up for a meal plan delivery service that delivers weekly meals to your home, often at a lower price than what you might find at the store. The meals come with recipes,  and all the ingredients may be already measured so you can cook them more easily. In some cases, they may include three meals for each day to further simplify the planning process. You might also feel more motivated to cook so you can try new meals curated by chefs.

Try simple meals

If you struggle to cook or plan extensive meals for the week, consider starting with microwaved meals, pre-made options, and healthy deli food. You can also buy finger food snacks like cut-up pickles, carrots, or celery. These meals can take under ten minutes to cook in some cases or may already come pre-cooked. You might be able to use a grocery delivery app to deliver food to your doorstep instead of going to the store to buy ingredients.

Reduce how often you eat out 

Eating out often might become a compulsion or fuel binging habits. If you find yourself eating out due to convenience, consider meal planning or simple meals, as mentioned above. It may also have financial benefits, as you might not spend as much on your monthly food costs. In addition, eating at home can help you avoid making poor food choices.

Ask for support 

Depression might make it feel challenging to get out of bed or plan meals in any capacity. If this is the case, consider asking for support. If you have friends or family willing to accompany you to the grocery store or help you plan healthy meals, consider talking to them. If you’re having a rough night, a friend, roommate, or partner might be able to cook dinner for you. 

Schedule meals 

If you struggle with overeating when stressed, consider scheduling meals each day. This strategy could also benefit those who forget to eat or struggle with motivation. Set several alarms at each mealtime and eat what you can in moderation. You can also plan a meal in advance by writing out what you want to eat. 

If you often overeat or eat many snacks throughout the day, consider talking to a nutritionist. They can create a meal plan for you, identify any nutritional deficiencies you may be dealing with, and help you decide how to get your proper nutrients without overeating.

Consider meal-replacement drinks

If you feel nauseous before eating or don’t want to eat anything, a meal replacement drink might be better than going without food. Although they aren’t a long-term solution, they often contain the nutrients and fiber your body requires to avoid health problems and stay energized. Try to find a drink without many sugars or extra fats, as some drinks are made for gaining muscle or weight.

Getty/Jordi Salas
Does your diet affect your mood?

See a counselor 

At times, relationships with food can get challenging. Whether you’re experiencing an eating disorder, struggling to eat, overeating, or concerned about your depression or another mental illness, consider reaching out for medical advice from a professional health care providers, like a general practitioner who can get you en route to a therapist. 

If you struggle to leave home or find it overwhelming to visit a therapist at their office or own practice, consider online therapy. With online counseling, you can attend phone, video, or live chat sessions from your house or any location with an internet connection. Your therapist can also send you worksheets or refer you to a webinar with instructions on self-care within an app. Additionally, studies show that online cognitive-behavioral therapy is especially effective in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

For those interested in signing up for online counseling, platforms like BetterHelp offer affordable and available options. They can match you with a therapist to take out the work of finding someone who works for you while you’re struggling or feeling low.


Depression can, in some cases, lead to a lack of appetite or an increase in appetite. It also may be associated with some eating disorders. If you’re struggling to eat or find ways to cook meals while depressed, consider the above tips. You can also find further professional guidance by reaching out to a compassionate counselor for support.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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